While the COVID-19 pandemic may have shut down volleyball competitions around the globe, it did not bring to a halt the many stories and personalities that make this sport so unique and special.
During the pandemic VolleyballMag.com, now well into its fourth decade of operation as the sport’s continued go-to source for all things volleyball, hasn’t missed a beat when it comes to bringing you the very best coverage from all angles of the sport.
And best yet, we’re excited to unveil our newest creation.
For most of the past four decades, VolleyballMag.com annually releases its Fab 50 lists that rank the top senior-age youth players across the country in both the boys and girls disciplines. The girls Fab 50 list long has been the standard-bearer, while the boys list continues to grow in popularity.
Which got us to thinking. What other part of our sport continues to soar in popularity? How about the girls youth and women’s college beach games?
So why the heck don’t we have a Fab product for girls beach?
We do now.
We are thrilled to present our inaugural VolleyballMag.com Girls Beach Fab 30, which features 30 of the top senior-age girls beach players in the country, as voted on by a panel of NCAA beach coaches and recruiting coordinators.
As the voting panel becomes more established and continues to grow in the future, the plan is to expand the list to the top 50 to mirror that of our other Fab 50 products.
Some key takeaways from the first list. If the NFL’s Chargers still played in San Diego, a suggestion would be to cue up their iconic “San Diego Super Chargers” theme song because this year’s list has a strong San Diego-area theme to it with six players from that neck of the woods on the Fab 30 list, headlined by the dynamic duo of the USC-bound Megan Kraft and Delaynie Maple.
Both Southern California and the Bay Area are heavily represented as well. In terms of colleges, the rich are getting a heck of a lot richer. USC cleaned up, as did defending-champion UCLA, but fellow Pac-12ers Stanford, Cal and Arizona didn’t do badly either.
Kraft was voted the top player in the Class of 2020 by the panel with Maple right behind her in second place (a total of two voting points separated the two best friends). Other contenders for top honors include Florida State-bound and Texas native Caitlin Moon, a pair of UCLA-bound partners in Tessa Van Winkle and Peri Brennan (working under the tutelage of sport great Dane Selznick), another USC signee with tremendous high school beach success in Olivia Bakos, plus the Stanford-bound Xolani Hodel and Kate Reilly.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Kraft said when told she is the top recruit in the Class of 2020. “It’s an amazing feeling knowing that the work I put in paid off, but I couldn’t have done it without Delaynie and the support of WAVE Beach and the coaches. It’s an amazing program they have there. And now I am super-excited to be able to play at USC with more amazing players and coaches.”
Kraft and Maple turned heads last summer by becoming the youngest pair to advance as far as fifth place at an AVP event at the Hermosa Beach Open. They also took 13th at the Huntington Beach Open after emerging from the qualifying round. Both have dossiers loaded with titles in high-powered youth and open events.
“I started playing volleyball in the third grade and thought I would go the indoor route,” Maple said. “I started playing beach in sixth grade and the second I hit the sand I knew this was what I wanted to do. Plus, at the beach after every game you get to jump in the ocean. There is no better feeling. It’s surreal. I never thought this would be something to do in college. And now that I have the opportunity to do it, it’s the coolest thing ever.”
Maple said her partnership with Kraft simply works.
“When I step on the court, I have 100 percent trust in her and in beach volleyball that is super-important,” she said. “I know she always will have my back and I will always have hers. She is one of my best friends in life, not just volleyball. We have a blast out there. We make it a positive game. We’re both super-competitive, but we make sure we have fun.”
Kraft didn’t get the full-on beach bug until around freshman year at Torrey Pines High School in San Diego. While still playing indoors in the fall at Torrey Pines, Kraft quickly shifted focus to the sand and eventually developed the partnership with Maple.
“She’s a great person on and off the court and a super hard worker,” she said. “She is motivated just like I am to get better every day. We click. We know what each other needs. We are able to talk without talking. We know each other that well. We’re super-comfortable and not afraid to speak up and tell each other what we want. It’s why it works so well.”
Florida State-bound Moon also received high marks from the voting panel. A native of Boerne, Texas (pronounced bur-nee and about 30 miles outside San Antonio), Moon has been making the two-hour traffic-filled commute to Austin for quite a number of years to train with the Texas Volleyball Tour Beach Team club.
“I was playing the game for fun and now somehow I find myself at Florida State, which I could not be more stoked about,” said Moon, an outdoors enthusiast. “I don’t like to talk about myself too much. I love the game and I want to be the best I can be all the time. I work hard all the time and I always want to get better the next time. You can’t win them all, but you can keep your head up and have a good attitude. It’s easy to get beat down, but you have to always push forward.”
Van Winkle, the daughter of former UCLA women’s indoor player Laurie Jones (part of two NCAA title teams) and whose sister Abby already plays for UCLA, also started playing indoors but made the permanent sand switch by sophomore year in high school. She’s been training with Selznick’s Santa Monica/Laguna Beach club program along with soon-to-be Bruins teammate Brennan, herself an accomplished player as the CBVA’s 2019 top women’s AAA points earner. Brennan finished first in her last three CBVA AAAs, twice with Van Winkle. The Stanford-bound Hodel also trains with Selznick.
“Playing in college always was my dream,” Van Winkle said. “I didn’t know if I would make it, but I worked really hard to get there and that hard work paid off.”
Bakos, who trains with the Olympians’ Eric Fonoimoana, Holly McPeak, Barbra Fontana-run Elite club, never played the indoor game. Bakos, the daughter of former Pepperdine standout Lee Hoven-Bakos, enjoyed immense success as part of the Mira Costa High School girls beach team that racked up three state titles in a row (Bakos was part of all three). Her high school partner was the Stanford-bound Reilly.
“I am super-excited about USC,” Bakos said. “I’m super-grateful to have the opportunity to do this a such an amazing school. I worked hard to get here, but it’s been really fun. It’s so cool to have the opportunity to play for a defending championship team.”
In addition to our first Fab 30, we also, as is custom with the VolleyballMag.com Fab franchise, present the 20 Underclassmen to Watch list.
This first underclassmen list, though, takes on a much different look than its boys and girls indoor counterparts. While sophomores and certainly freshmen are rarities on the indoor lists, not so for the beach. Of the 21 girls listed (there was a tie for the 20th spot), a whopping 15 are either current ninth- or 10th-graders. Again, California, Florida and Texas are well-represented. In the coming weeks, we’ll come back and introduce you to even more girls beach standouts who are on the radar of NCAA coaches.
And we’re not done with new products. In the next few weeks, keep an eye out for our first women’s college beach recruiting class rankings. We’ll take a look at which programs made out the best in the Class of 2020. Something tells us the words Trojans and Bruins will be prominent.